There is nothing more essential to my daily routine than coffee and a good bike ride to stay in shape. I used to ride around 5 miles to and from work everyday, sometimes twice a day, making coffee at both ends of the journey. Handlebar Roasters is not only an amazing roasting company, phenomenal space, and down to earth business, the staff are some of the nicest, most professional people I have met in the industry.
When I first heard about Handlebar, I incorrectly thought; handlebar…handle bar mustache… bikes… fixed gear bikes… cropped jeans…. hipsters… Boy was I wrong. In reality, Handlebar is the complete opposite. The owners are, in fact, world champion cyclists who took a hiatus from professional sports to pursue a labor of love; coffee. These guys live the craft, received formal barista training in Portland, and have the whole process dialed from roasting to espresso. After just seven short months, owners Kim and Aaron have established themselves as an excellent roaster in the Santa Barbra area and garnered well deserved notoriety throughout California.
From the moment I walked in to their modest shop, it was apparent that it was a “people place,” centered around a small neighborhood community. Aaron and Kim, welcomed me warmly and immediately started chatting with me about coffee. They were kind, sincere, and knowledgeable, both more than willing to share their methods and ideas. Actually, the two are just friendly people who want to chat with everyone, not only about coffee, but about everything.
Aesthetically, the store is very simple, practical, and designed for functionality. It is not a particularly flashy space. Rather, the wood paneling, reserved color scheme, and modest decor provided a very homey, inviting atmosphere. Of course, being Handlebar Roasters, bicycle art pieces and championship jerseys were displayed prominently on the walls (not to mention their sleek King stem tamper). The lengthy, rectangle design of the store creates a very open, streamlined, ergonomic workspace for the staff. Every piece of equipment has its own designated display space. The Probat prominently sits at the front of the store, allowing patrons to intimately observe the process of high quality coffee roasting. For me at least, putting the roaster in such an accessible spot demonstrates their commitment to sharing the coffee experience with everyone from bean to cup. Handlebar is located on a beautiful street directly across from the Santa Barbara Persidio, making it a great place to just relax and enjoy the afternoon. This makes Handle Bar very much a “people place.” From the design to the professional attitude, the aesthetics of the shop embody the “neighborhood establishment.” They already have a ton of regulars and a dedicated customer base thanks to the immense amount of care they put forth for every individual with quality products and friendly service.
It is always exciting to visit new roasters, especially ones that utilize good equipment like Probat. I really enjoy visiting places that roast in house and focus on their store rather than retail. With lesser known roasters, it is always an adventure, reputations don’t always proceed. Handle Bar doesn’t disappoint. I am have worked with some of the same S.O. beans in the past, but they do such a terrific job it was as if I was enjoying them for the first time all over again. Honestly, it is hard to believe they have only been doing this for seven months.
My cap was wonderful and solid. Temperature wise, it was a little on the cool side, but the flavor very sweet. Their house espresso’s flavor was clean, semi-bright, and “straight forward” in the sense it had a pleasant, heavy consistency that was not strictly sweet or bitter but a nice middle ground. Well-balanced and not at all drab. It was milky and quite wet, but it was a great drink overall that showcased their roasting quality well. In addition, Aaron also gave me a sample of their Bella Carmona, one of my favorite coffees from Lulu’s. We talked extensively about cupping notes and agreed it is such a great coffee with a prominent flavor that was neither noticeably acidic nor heavily bodied.
As I was leaving, Aaron asked, “do you want one more for the road? There will be a lot of traffic.” He assured me it was no trouble and thanked me for the good time. As more and more shops are opening with the potential for increased elitism (and competition), HB maintains its integrity as a credible roaster and good business; they are just kind people who wanted to share their love.
What really struck me about Aaron and Kim was there commitment to professionalism. While coffee has become a huge part of their lives, they entered the industry simply because they love coffee. They aren’t out to make money, create an image, or just jump on the band wagon. As world champion cyclists, they don’t really need to. They have confidence in their quality but humbleness in their appearance. For every compliment I gave, they countered me with a self criticism. For their extensive amount of training as baristas and roasters, they had virtually no ego about their skill. Some shops wreak attitude, these guys excude courtesy and an unparalled sense of hospitality. They roast their own coffee and maintain a level of “industry standards” because they want to provide their niche with the best products, period. Though their shop may seem typical, there is so much more under the surface; they are honest, hard working, career driven people who have a world of experience to bring to coffee. Quite simply, their business is down to earth and dedicated. At one point during our conversation, we all agreed that as much as we love coffee, it isn’t our lives. They are professional cyclists who love coffee and that’s why they do it. Good perspective guys.
On my way back from LA, I paid them a second visit and arrived just as Aaron was finishing the day’s roasting. I brought them some of my own roasting and wanted to share my coffee with them since they had been so good to me. To my suprise, they gave me full access to the bar. We all had a good chat and enjoyed my Ethiopian coffee. I purchased some of their Bella Carmona and have been sharing it at work all week. For me, this place was all about camaraderie, quality, sharing, and enjoyment; “companionship” in coffee by people who’s passion comes through in their work.
- Bikes AND coffee
- Their unique roasting of well known beans
- Their down to earth attitude
- Santa Barbara is a nice stopping point before entering the concrete jungle
Santa Barbara, CA 93101